Daniel Ricciardo in profile
Last Updated: 07/01/16 2:23pm
As arrivals at the forefront of the Formula 1 grid go, Daniel Ricciardo's has proved to be one of the most spectacular - and popular - in recent memory.
When it was first announced that the young, affable Australian would be promoted up the Red Bull food chain to the stable's 'A' team for 2014 in place of countryman Mark Webber most thought Ricciardo had been handed the toughest assignment in the sport - being team-mate to quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Just how wrong we all were. Not only did Ricciardo immediately show he belonged in the grid's upper echelons, he was the only non-Mercedes driver to win a race all year, completed a portfolio's worth of dazzling overtaking moves and, most unexpectedly of all, he became the first team-mate to defeat Vettel over the course of a season.
Indeed, such was Ricciardo's pre-eminence at Red Bull in 2014 that when it was announced Vettel was quitting the team for Ferrari, it was almost universally accepted that the 25-year-old was ready to lead the team's pursuit for on-track honours. A new star had already been born.
2015 proved a tougher proposition, however, with Ricciardo frequently the victim of the Red Bull-Renault package's chronic unreliability. Largely as a result of that frequent bad luck, Ricciardo finished the year behind new team-mate Daniil Kvyat in the standings - a situation that Ricciardo will no doubt be keen to reverse in 2016.
As is the norm for up-and-coming drivers these days, Ricciardo comes from a karting background, having started as a nine-year-old before going on to win the Western Australian Formula Ford Championship driving a 15-year-old Van Diemen.
His success saw him win a scholarship into the Formula BMW Asian Championship with Eurasia Motorsport and from there he moved to Formula Renault with Rp Motorsport, entering the European and Italian Championships of the category. He remained a part of the series in 2008, racing in the European and Western European Championships, taking his first European title in the Western European Cup and finishing second in the Eurocup to Valtteri Bottas.
The Australian moved to the British Formula Three Championship in 2009 with Carlin Motorsport and won the title by 87 points from Walter Grubmuller.
At the end of the year the Red Bull-backed starlet was handed the chance to test the energy drinks firm's F1 car in the young driver sessions at Jerez and the strong impression he made saw him named as their reserve driver for the following season, which he dovetailed with racing in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series with Tech 1 where he finished second.
And although he remained in the series for 2011, this time with ISR, Ricciardo's reputation was growing far beyond the junior categories. On the back of another impressive appearance in the Young Driver Test the previous winter, Ricciardo was given the chance to take part in Friday practice sessions with Red Bull's junior team, Toro Rosso.
At the 2011 British GP, it was announced that Spanish backmarkers HRT had signed him for the remainder of the season in place of Narain Karthikeyan. It didn't take long for Ricciardo to take the fight to new team-mate Tonio Liuzzi, and with very few mistakes and a continuous upswing, it was the vastly more experienced Italian who was forced to make way when Karthikeyan made his expected one-off return for India's inaugural race.
Ricciardo's impressive efforts finally earned him the call up to Toro Rosso to partner Jean-Eric Vergne at the start of 2012 and Daniel was in the points at the first attempt - at his home Australian GP debut no less - with ninth place.
Although it was Vergne who finished one place higher in the standings, Ricciardo dominated their qualifying head-to-head - something which continued in 2013. When Webber announced in June of that year that he was retiring from F1 for sportscars, Ricciardo was immediately named on Red Bull's shortlist, although most thought at the time that the seat was likely to go to Kimi Raikkonen.
However, it was Ricciardo who was handed the coveted drive after an impressive test for Red Bull at Silverstone, even though he did initially beach the RB9 in the gravel.
What followed in 2014 was Ricciardo's best season in F1 to date. In just the fourth race of the year he claimed his maiden F1 podium followed four races later in Spain, although it was the next month in Canada where Ricciardo shone brightest of all as he pounced on Mercedes reliability problems to claim his breakthrough grand prix win.
A second unlikely triumph followed in Hungary - thanks in no small part to impressive overtakes on Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso - and when Ricciardo won again two weeks later at Spa the possibility that he could even snatch the title from under the noses of the warring Mercedes pair emerged. And while it wasn't to be, Ricciardo's stellar season was capped by him finishing a comfortable third in the drivers' standings, two places and 71 points ahead of Ferrari-bound Vettel.
Ricciardo's star may have clouded during a largely frustrating 2015 but F1's smiling assassin will surely become a major player again sooner rather than later.